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LaFleur’s Disdain for Penalties Shows in Stats

“We don’t like penalties. It’s usually a pretty bad deal,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. That thinking is not universal among coaches, though.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – There are two schools of thought on penalties.

One was preached by former Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy. Of course, mental errors – false starts, for instance – are universally reviled. But McCarthy was OK with what he called “combative” penalties. If “physical, tough football” sometimes went over the line, so be it.

“It’s the discipline ones you’ve got to get out of your game,” McCarthy said in 2018, nine years after his team committed the most penalties in the NFL and seven years after his team committed the fewest. “If a guy’s really being too aggressive in his play style and he goes a little too far with it, makes a mistake, you know, I’m all for that.”

The other is the one espoused by third-year coach Matt LaFleur. His teams have been among the least-penalized teams in each of his first two seasons and are on their way to doing so again.

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“We don’t like penalties. It’s usually a pretty bad deal,” LaFleur said, the tone in his voice suggesting it was one of the dumber questions he’d heard in a while.

Interestingly, there’s little correlation between penalties and winning. Over the last eight years, six of the 16 teams to play in the Super Bowl finished among the 10 most-penalized teams while five of the teams were among the 10 least-penalized teams. Last year, when Tampa Bay beat Kansas City in the Super Bowl, the Buccaneers were the 20th-most penalized team while the Chiefs were the fourth-most penalized. In 2019, the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers were among the seven least-penalized teams. On the other hand, Seattle was the NFL’s most penalized team when it won the Super Bowl in 2013 and lost in 2014.

With the obvious small sample size of two games, the Packers have committed 12 penalties, tied for the fourth-fewest in the league. Ten of those have been accepted, also the fourth-fewest. Their 83 penalty yards are the sixth-fewest. Because some officiating crews love throwing their flags more than others, perhaps a better way to look at it is penalty differential. According to NFLPenalties.com, Green Bay has committed five fewer penalties than its opponents (fourth-best) for 31 fewer yards (seventh-best).

The accepted penalty count is five for Nathaniel Hackett’s offense, three for Joe Barry’s defense and two for Maurice Drayton’s special teams.

“We coach to not put yourself in a position to get a penalty,” LaFleur said. “From an offensive perspective, it’s hard when you get behind the sticks and you’re in those get-back-on-track situations. So, that is certainly something that we’re always stressing. Mo’s stressing it on special teams and then defensively, the same thing with Joe Barry and his staff. It takes a lot of discipline to play the right way and, thankfully, knock on wood, our guys have done a pretty good job of that.”